Cooks at the sharp end

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 March, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 March, 1995, 12:00am

GEORG Wiedemann grappled with the chopsticks. The dim sum from heaven was getting cold and his four companions had already rolled up their sleeves up.'Like this?' the visitor asked of host chef Josef Budde.

The guest, hours fresh from Germany, sat in the cosy chefs' dining room of the Grand Hyatt, ready to sample spinach soup, roast duck and noodles, and extol the virtues of sour wine.

Executive chef Budde dashed in and out, bringing steamer baskets and whisking plates, making the kind of fuss that only perfectionists or mothers do.

The German language was getting a workout from colleagues Martin Allies, general manager of Peak Cafe and Cafe Deco, guest chef Holger Jacobs, and Budde.

They smoothed over details of the menu that was to be served the next evening at a gastronomic society dinner.

The common denominator in the menu of seven courses was vinegar.

Each dish gets a splash. Black current wine vinegar for the salmon and caviar appetiser; the seafood pasta, Gewurztraminer vinegar; the bourgignon, rose and chestnut honey vinegar.

Even the dessert and sorbet gets a hit of the gem-coloured liquid.

Vinegar results when an alcoholic liquid with less than 18 per cent alcohol is exposed to air.

Bacteria invades and transforms the alcohol into acetic acid. The taste of this sour liquid comes from volatile compounds present in the original wine, which gives it the fruity or aromatic tones.

The array of floral and fruit-scented vinegars are hand-made by Weidemann's staff of seven in Germany.

Made from up-market wines such as Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Grauer Burgunder Beerenauslese, Wiedemann contends the better the wine, the better the product.

Vinegar is an 'in' staple. Lately it has been making its way into the kitchen as an ingredient, during cocktail hour as an aperitif and at the table as a condiment.

'Sip slowly,' instructs Wiedemann. And the others followed suit. Of course, the artist recommends tasting from a hand-blown glass of his design. After he sniffed, inhaled and swirled, he finished with a grin. Two neophytes did with a pucker. For one, it curled eyelashes and frizzed curly hair.

Gourmands splash it on berries, chefs use it in sauces, pastry, candies, even sorbets. One favourite way of Allies is spraying the contents of a salad bowl with a perfume sprayer filled with guess what.

For those in need of handsome glassware and striking bottles, a la I M Pei, the vinegars and accessories are available at Remy Fine Wine shops, Cafe Deco and Peak Cafe. Vinegars in six flavours start at $172; stemware, from $305 per glass; and a sprayer, $482.

For the must-have XO crowd, a 24 karat gold-plated table distillery kit with accessories, 'to enter the fascinating world of distillation and let yourself be seduced', according to the press release.

Pucker up, folks. That one retails for $15,300.

For more information contact: Martin Kniff at 2849-5165. SHORT of vineyard hopping to Sonoma County, California or Maipo Valley in Chile, try a BYO dinner at Faces. At a series of wine dinners, you sip and buy wine at the restaurant. The BYO dinners is a series of Tuesday evening not-so-serious tastings followed by a fixed-price three-course meal. Each evening will focus on a specific wine-growing region. Wines will be introduced and explained by vineyard representatives. A casual dinner will follow.

After the tasting, wines will be sold by the glass (about $20) or bottle ($100 to $150) at cost price. The tasting is free, but only on confirmation of a dinner reservation. The price for the three-course dinner is $280 plus 10 per cent.

Upcoming dinners spotlight Barossa Valley, South Australia (March 7); Hawkes Bay, New Zealand (March 21); Tuscany & Fruiti, Italy (April 11).

Tastings/lectures begin at 7.30pm; dinner, 8.30pm. For more information contact: Tel: 2526-4333. Fax: 2810-7068.